Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Our culture has a very different understanding of the weight of a word than the culture surrounding the Gospel writer John. The ancient world was very careful about words. Words exercised a power of unpredictable force in that world. Words unleashed the unthinkable. Words could curse, and words could bless. The difference between life and death depended on the word. The ancients were much more realistic about the power of the word than are we today. You would have never heard someone in Jesus’ day say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” For the ancients the word exists prior to creation.
For example, the first chapter of Genesis tells us that the creation was brought forth out of nothingness by the sheer force of God’s word, “Let there be light. . . . Let there be a firmament. . . . Let there be lights in the firmament. . . . Let the earth bring forth living creatures.”
The Word is more than a sign. It is a force.
Our lack of esteem for the word is primarily the result of a false turn in cultural history. We no longer see the word as a force. We treat words as if they are only signs. They are static things which we presume to judge. Our world is quantified and qualified by words. We use words like signs to describe God.
… God is mystery. God is holy. God is eternal. God is omnipotent. God is omniscient. God is immortal. We can go through the attributes of God like a grocery shopping list. Checking off each attribute like it is a jar of pickles on row 3 at the grocery. And we can do so without ever acknowledging the word as the force by which the world came into being.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
In the first chapter of his Gospel John maintains the Hebrew understanding of creation through the Word. It is by the powerful, forceful dynamic of the Word that the cosmos comes into being. But the surprise in all of this comes in the announcement:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth; we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the father. (vs. 14).
These words come to us as a surprise. We can perhaps more easily accept that the Word was in the beginning, that the Word was with God, and even that the Word was God. But what about the announcement that the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us? We like our words clean, neat, categorical. What happens when the Word is made flesh?
The God who created us through the Word has subjected himself as the Word to the conditions of this world without being overcome by them.
The Word is not only a sign that points to a heavenly reality, a heavenly standard that stands as a contrast to our world. The Word is a force which has entered into our world. The objective of the Word made flesh is to reveal the presence of God active as Word among us. God is coming to us.
The Word is not only a force which creates the World. It is not only a force which struggles with and overcomes the conditions of this world. The Word occurs in this world with purpose. The Word reveals to us who God is.
No one has ever seen God; the only Son who is in the bosom of the father, he has made him known. (vs. 18).
We live in a world that is very clouded by every kind of resistance to the light. But the light that enters the world in the Word made flesh is a light which reveals the mysterious presence of God forcefully at work in his creation. At work among thieves, at work among liars, at work among those who envy others.
The work of the Word made flesh is to reveal to us what God is doing. The work of the Church is to announce what God has revealed in the Word made flesh. This forbids us from being judge over the Word and the World and invites us to be children of God through the Word in the world.